Until she got to Standard Eight at Likuni Girls Primary School, Georgina Kanthenga grew up aspiring to become a medical doctor, because her mother encouraged her so.
“I then found a book from my late Aunt Elfrida’s luggage titled The 20th Century Pioneers. The book was about Neil Armstrong as the first American to step on the moon. There, my interest for engineering was kindled. I told my mother that I wanted to become an astronaut when I grew up, an she said no,” she narrates.
With that, she turned back to her medical doctor aspirations. But while at Kasungu Secondary School, she read a feature about a woman working in a male-dominated field.
“While in Form Three, I read in a newspaper about Patricia Khambadza [if my memory serves me well], who was doing City and Guilds; and working in a male-dominated field. I got interested and the article said for one to venture into such a field, they needed to be creative because it is challenging,” she says.
Here again, she felt she had found something which suited her most.
“As a child, I liked drawing pictures of people, trees and houses. I also liked sewing dolls and designing clothes for the dolls. So, I thought I was very creative and as for the male-dominated aspect of things, I thought, well, I was raised with a twin brother, so I was already there. No big deal,” she adds.
She found out that she could study engineering at The Polytechnic and worked hard to be selected there.
Kanthenga graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 2009. The same year she joined Illovo Sugar Malawi Limited on a management trainee programme to acquire professional experience. She became the company’s plant engineer in the sugar processing side in 2012.
“Being a plant engineer, especially in a heavy-duty industry, is quite an exciting experience as one is presented with challenges every day that need to be overcome to keep the plant going,” she says.
The most important part of her job involves people management and she says: “Dealing with people is one of the most complex things ever. A person’s mind cannot be controlled 100 percent. It is different from controlling a machine. When you put a setting on a machine, you are very sure that it will operate unless a condition has changed. As such, one needs to be crude when dealing with people. Getting them to believe what you believe in is the most important thing,” Kanthenga explains.
Apart from that, her job involves ensuring that all spares are available to maintain the plant—analysing faults and trying to get to the root of any problem to eliminate recurrence, budgeting and ensuring employee safety as well as enforcing team-work.
Born on March 7 1983 in Ntcheu, Georgina is the second-born in a family of four girls and her twin brother. They were raised by their mother, a retired nurse, following the passing of their father.
Kanthenga excels in her job, despite being in a male-dominated field. She says she is lucky to work in a place where everyone is accountable for their mistakes.
She was the only girl in her mechanical engineering class at The Polytechnic. Her journey to professionalism started with eight girls in the first-year of college studies. In the second year, as everyone picked their area of specialisation, left her a loner in her class.
On maintaining a work and life balance, Kanthenga, who is married to Ignacio Kanthenga, says it all boils down to time management—making sure that time for work is used as such and that of family as well.
“I have to be efficient during working hours, so that I do not compromise on my personal time with work. So, the key thing is to do a thorough job while at work and enjoy personal time after work,” she says.
Kanthenga owes her success to her mother, who she says taught her to believe in herself and to put her trust in God for everything she does.
“She also ensured that I was her friend; I was free to discuss everything with her. I think this is where most parents miss it—they wait for other people to give advice to their children. Be there to answer any question children may have, sensitive or not,” she advises.
The engineer calls on younger girls to trust in God, believe in themselves and be visionary of what they want to become in future, and pursue it with passion.
Kanthenga comes from Chiponde Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mkumpha, on Likoma Island. She has a number of awards to her name, including Total Malawi Merit Awards, 2007 and Illovo Management Trainee Presentations Award 2011.